A caf­feine hit

Cof­fee project and con­ser­va­tion

Paradise - - Contents -

Imag­ine a group of con­ser­va­tion sci­en­tists sit­ting around a cof­feepot one day on their morn­ing break, and pos­ing a rid­dle like some­thing from a Dr Seuss tale. What could a good brew do to save a nice ’roo?

The an­swer, as it hap­pens, is ‘quite a lot’. While it mightn’t have been a eureka mo­ment over morn­ing cof­fee, re­searchers in Pa­pua New Guinea have come up with a seem­ingly coun­ter­in­tu­itive plan to pro­tect en­dan­gered Matschie’s tree kan­ga­roos. Yes, set up a pro­tected area – a stan­dard in the con­ser­va­tion world – but then en­cour­age lo­cal vil­lagers to ‘ex­ploit’ it by grow­ing cof­fee. The rest, as they say, is his­tory. The tree kan­ga­roos are thriv­ing, the lo­cals have an in­come source, and the cof­fee – with its smooth body and sub­tle aro­mas of hazel­nut and or­ange zest – is now be­ing sold over the Pa­cific in the hip­ster cafes of Seat­tle. The sci­en­tists have cre­ated a caf­feine hit.

The story of the ’roo and the brew started in 2009 with the es­tab­lish­ment of YUS Con­ser­va­tion Area, named for three rivers (the Yopno, Uruwa and Som) in a re­mote re­gion of

PNG’s Huon Penin­sula. US-based Con­ser­va­tion In­ter­na­tional and Wood­land Park Zoo in Seat­tle had been work­ing on the project for a decade. The Huon Penin­sula pro­vides crit­i­cal habi­tat for sev­eral species, in­clud­ing the re­mark­able tree kan­ga­roo.

Declar­ing a con­ser­va­tion area that pro­hibits log­ging, min­ing and other ac­tiv­i­ties is all very well, but it never works ef­fec­tively un­less lo­cals can be con­vinced of its ben­e­fits – par­tic­u­larly in PNG, where most land re­mains un­der lo­cal own­er­ship.

Some 12,000 vil­lagers in­habit 35 vil­lages in the YUS re­gion, so it was vi­tal that they could draw sus­tain­able ben­e­fits from the con­ser­va­tion area. The so­lu­tion was to cre­ate a strongly pro­tected core in this moun­tain­ous land­scape, sur­rounded by more flex­i­ble, mixed-use buf­fer zones that lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties could put to en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly use.

Small-scale farm­ing was one such use, and al­ready prac­tised across the Huon Penin­sula. Cof­fee grow­ing wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily the ob­vi­ous choice of crop, how­ever. True, the rich soils, cli­mate and al­ti­tude all favoured cof­fee, but cof­fee farm­ing had been tried and aban­doned in the 1950s be­cause of the chal­lenges of trans­port­ing the prod­uct to mar­ket from this rugged, road-less re­gion. That cof­fee was, how­ever, di­rected at the lo­cal mar­ket. This cof­fee would ab­sorb the high cost of trans­port by light plane by be­ing sold in­ter­na­tion­ally, at a pre­mium.

It seemed like an ab­surdly am­bi­tious plan, but Wood­land Park Zoo had a for­tu­itous ad­van­tage in home­town Seat­tle, cof­fee cap­i­tal of the US and a world cen­tre for cof­fee roast­ing and sup­ply.

En­ter Caffe Vita Cof­fee Roast­ing Com­pany, founded in Seat­tle in 1995 and one of the pi­o­neers of the ‘ farm direct’ move­ment, which seeks to de­velop long-term, mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ships be­tween farm­ers and busi­nesses. It was al­ready deal­ing with small-scale, sus­tain­able cof­fee grow­ers in far-flung places, and quickly be­came in­ter­ested in the idea of YUS cof­fee.

“Caffe Vita stepped up not only to pro­vide the struc­ture and mar­ket sup­port, but they even came with us to Pa­pua New Guinea to meet the farm­ers, train them on cof­fee cul­ti­va­tion tech­niques and help them im­prove their prod­uct to the sen­si­bil­i­ties of the gourmet Seat­tle cof­fee mar­ket,” ex­plains Dr Lisa Dabek, di­rec­tor of the Tree Kan­ga­roo Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gram ( TKCP).

The YUS Con­ser­va­tion Cof­fee Project thus be­came a joint ef­fort be­tween con­ser­va­tion groups, PNG’s Cof­fee In­dus­try Cor­po­ra­tion and Caffe Vita. Some 400 fam­i­lies were trained in cof­fee farm­ing and pro­cess­ing, and im­proved dry­ing con­di­tions for the cof­fee beans were es­tab­lished. “The farm­ers of YUS have shown re­mark­able progress to­ward im­ple­ment­ing the changes nec­es­sary to im­prove yields, and, more im­por­tantly,

the qual­ity of their cof­fee,” com­ments Daniel Shew­maker, Caffe Vita’s cof­fee buyer. “Our goal is the con­tin­ual re­fine­ment of these farm­ing and pro­cess­ing prac­tices.”

The first-ever direct trade cash crop in the YUS re­gion be­gan to flour­ish. In early 2012 the first 22 bags of cof­fee were shipped to Seat­tle and sold both in drink form and as beans for re­tail sale. The cof­fee has a flavour that Caffe Vita de­scribes as mel­low, honey-like and nutty. Aus­tralian on­line re­tailer Jasper Cof­fee de­scribes it as ‘sweet creamy bis­cuit pra­line’ with ‘hints of deep tof­fee choco­late’.

It isn’t just the taste­buds of Seat­tleites that have ben­e­fited. Lo­cal PNG hip pock­ets have ben­e­fited, too, in a re­mote re­gion where vil­lagers have few vi­able sources of in­come. Bet­ter tech­ni­cal knowl­edge and ac­cess to an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket have seen their earn­ings in­crease 60 per cent since the in­cep­tion of the cof­fee project in 2011; the money is used to buy house­hold goods and pro­vide ac­cess to bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and health care.

Morobe Prov­ince, in which YUS Con­ser­va­tion Area lies, has leapt up the list of cof­fee-pro­duc­ing prov­inces in PNG, which the Cof­fee In­dus­try Cor­po­ra­tion says is due, among other rea­sons, to part­ner­ships with or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the TKCP and the de­ter­mi­na­tion of Morobe farm­ers to sell their cof­fee in high-value in­ter­na­tional cof­fee mar­kets. In 2014, the in­no­va­tive project was vin­di­cated when the TKCP was award a pres­ti­gious Equa­tor Prize by the United Na­tions for this sus­tain­able lo­cal de­vel­op­ment project.

The cof­fee project con­tin­ues to grow. “Through this process we have been warmly wel­comed into the YUS com­mu­nity. It is an hon­our and priv­i­lege to roast this re­mark­able cof­fee and share in creat­ing a bet­ter fu­ture for their fam­i­lies and the con­ser­va­tion of their land,” says Dabek. We might sup­pose that the sci­en­tists have ben­e­fited too, as they sit around their cof­feepot, in­hal­ing the mel­low, nutty aroma of kopi

YUS and wait­ing for that caf­feine kick to pro­vide their minds with the next bright idea.

Lo­cal PNG hip pock­ets have ben­e­fited. Bet­ter tech­ni­cal knowl­edge and ac­cess to an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket have seen their earn­ings in­crease 60 per cent since the in­cep­tion of the cof­fee project in 2011.

Fruits of labour ... Tep Tep vil­lagers with cof­fee cher­ries (op­po­site page); tree kan­ga­roo (above); a hand­ful of freshly picked cof­fee berries (above left); YUS lo­cals (above).

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